Movie Review - 127 Hours (****)


127 Hours.  96 mins.  R.  Directed by Danny Boyle.  Written by Danny Boyle & Simon Beaufoy. Starring James Franco, Kate Mara, and Amber Tamblyn.

Within seconds of watching 127 Hours, two things are immediately clear: (1) you're watching a Danny Boyle movie; and (2) fresh off his Slumdog Millionaire Best Director win, he's still working at the top of his game.  The opening scenes are a whirling dervish of split screens and rapid cuts, all scored to Free Blood's catchy tune, "Never Hear Surf Music Again."  I was immediately hooked.  
James Franco gives a tour-de-force performance as Aron Ralston, the mountain climber who ends up cutting off his own arm after being trapped by a boulder for five days.  Aside from a brief, fun few minutes near the start when Ralston meets two attractive female climbers and takes them on an impromptu guide of the Utah canyon hot spots, the movie is all Franco all the time.  And he delivers.  As you can guess, there is not a ton that happens in the film.  Ralston is stuck.  He tries to chip the rock down with a dull pocket knife.  He devises a pulley system to free himself.  He drinks his own urine.  He hallucinates about Scooby-Doo.  But Franco grounds it all in an unshowy performance that strives for realism and hits it.  He does a fine job of conveying the reckless adventurous spirit of Ralston that transforms into frustration, regret, and ultimately a reborn purpose in life and desperate desire to survive over the course of the five days.
Boyle does not take the easy way out and cut away from Ralston's horrific situation just to appease the audience and give them a release.   As Ralston begins to mentally slip, Boyle lets loose - he excels at creating altered states of mind on film (for proof - just watch Trainspotting).  Some of the mental flashbacks don't have the emotional heft intended though, and there's an underlying lack of suspense to most of the movie given the well-documented true life facts.  But even though the audience knows where the movie is headed, you still won't want it to go there.  Much has been made about people fainting during the arm amputation scene.  It may not be faint-worthy, but it is certainly intense.  The audio cues are probably the most unnerving part.  
127 Hours is not about Ralston's arm though.  It is about survival and the human spirit.  It is about recognizing the important things in life and not taking any of them for granted.  It's a strong movie - another success for Boyle - and it would make for a perfect claustrophobic double feature if paired with Buried.  Both of those movies subject the audience to near-unbearable levels of confinement, but while Buried throws a big "f**k you" to its audience at the end, 127 Hours gives them more of a "thank you."

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